Wednesday, March 31, 2010


the husband of a woman i have known since my children were young died. i received an email that said "he passed away peacefully while they were watching american idol, which they loved."

could there be anything more depressing? did anyone notice he had passed away before the commercial? what if it had been survivor? who has really been voted off the island? dear representative of the universal force, please do not let me die in the middle of american idol or any other television show.

and then, at this man's funeral, a co-worker spoke and extolled his ability to manipulate data. again, dear representative of the universal force, please do not allow anyone to speak at my service if they can't think of anything more interesting than that to say about me. really, silence will be fine.

what's going on here? when someone dies, it should be significant, shouldn't it? are we so afraid to think about what death really is that we like to just think it is all ok? oh wait--change the channel--i think lost is on now.

Monday, March 29, 2010

nothing to wear

my good friend came into town--at my request--to help me shop for clothes as nothing i owned fit, and i was not about to venture into a mall alone. my friend, though, is a fearless shopper. she also looks like lauren hutton. always has. i don't know what i was thinking: the comparison was beyond depressing.

this kind, caring, generous friend was on a mission though. she suggested another way of wearing my scarf, and then asked if i had thought about wearing some makeup. she offered some tips that had worked for her friend, a no-doubt gorgeous nordic beauty also going though breast cancer. i did not find this helpful. i have no eyelashes! i rarely wore makeup before, and to wear it now would feel like preparing for an open casket. horrifying. clearly i was not ready for this.

but we got past that and did actually shop. we started early on a Sunday morning while there was no one under the age fifty anywhere in the mall, then gradually went from the most comfortable store for me (j. jill) to the scariest (j. crew & bannana republic). (it's not that people mean to be unkind, but no one really wants a middle-aged cancer patient in their fashionable store. their customers do not think, "oh, i want to look like her!"). 

my friend was wonderful, bringing me carefully selected things while i hid in the dressing room, avoiding the mirror, and telling me i looked great in a size four, as if it were natural for me. i do have something to wear now, and i couldn't have done it without her. but screw the scarves; i'm done now.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

almost over

i play a game every day in radiation: i try to perfectly align myself on the table so i don't have to be adjusted. day before yesterday, i won. i was actually happy about this.

really? really this makes me happy? this is a problem. and then yesterday, chris (my new best friend) told me while i was lying there that i only have seven more treatments and i started to cry. i am confused. 

i am almost finished. and people are happy for me, which i appreciate. and i hate to disappoint them by not being as excited as they are for me. it's just... ok, so now what? there is no real finish line, there is no prize, i didn't accomplish anything tangible. all i did was do everything i was told to do in the hopes of improving my odds slightly.

i'll never know if it worked--after all, there was a 4 out of 5 chance that i didn't actually have any more cancer cells traveling throughout my body anyway. now there is a 6 out of 7 chance that they are all gone. and a 1 out of 7 chance that they are just waiting to found their next settlement, in my bones or in my lungs.

the long winter is over, at least for now. i am starting to get a little stronger, i am not depressed, i don't feel sick. i am grateful to all the people who helped me, and all the people who came before me. but i am unsettled...

i think i must have expected to find a meaning to all of this. and, well...

Saturday, March 13, 2010

recovery dog

i am excited! i am getting a dog. despite years of chad saying "when coal dies, no more dogs," in a weak moment, while witnessing my grief (and experiencing a little of his own), he said, "kath, if you really want to, we can get another dog." those were his exact words. he promised. i remember.

his name is murphy. he spent some time in the greenville county correctional facility, learning how to trust again (as did his inmate trainer). and now he is graduating and needs someone to love him. i will love him.

my friend found him for me and will keep him until i can come get him. after radiation. when i am recovering. and he is recovering. and we can recover together. he will be... Recovery Dog.

battling cancer

i am trying to understand the language we have built around cancer. first, when exactly do i become a survivor? and am i surviving cancer or cancer treatment?

and then there are the words "fight" and "battle," as in "she is fighting cancer."

i think we use words like this because it sounds noble to be "battling" or "fighting" cancer, and gives the impression that we have some control. when, really, we have none.  in fact, i have never been so passive in my life as i have throughout this experience. all i do is what i am told to do. other people, you could say, are "fighting" my cancer for me, but i am pretty much just lying there, often literally.

"in submissive acquiescense, she showed up for whatever horrible treatment was recommended" somehow just doesn't sound as good.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

nerve endings

surprise. i can't actually button buttons. i assumed i could, but now, thinking about it, i don't have any buttons on my winter clothes. and now that i am pretending it is spring, my little numb finger tips have been put to the test. i also discovered, as i was rinsing off "root awakening" conditioner in the shower, that you need sensation in the balls of your feet to stay upright with your eyes closed. who knew?

my doctor says it will "probably get better." i really don't care. it just adds a little challenge to the day.

Monday, March 8, 2010

staying positive

the ladies at radiation today were expressing concern, but in a tut-tut sort of way, about another breast cancer patient who didn't seem to them to have a positive outlook. i saw this woman a little later and when i asked her about her hair, which is about an inch long (again, my boundary issues and hair obsession took over), she explained that she had chemo before surgery because she has inflamatory breast cancer, hence the presence of hair during radiation.

what she didn't tell me, but i have learned, is that inflamatory breast cancer is rare (1% of all breast cancers), appears in younger women (which she is) and is very, very aggressive. simply by being diagnosed with this type of cancer, you are automatically at stage IIIB and facing a five-year survival rate of 40%. treatment is chemo first, then a modified radical mastectomy, then radiation.

she was friendly, out front and maybe just a little cynical. i liked her. i don't think thinking happy thoughts is going to make a damn bit of difference. what may is that her treatment team is on it, acting quickly and aggressively, and she is right there with them.

i think the other ladies cling to the idea that "being positive" will save them. and even that "being positive" equates to being a good person, and somehow makes them more worthy of being saved.

screw being positive.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

a funeral

i attended a funeral service yesterday. it was held in a church just a couple of blocks away, so i walked, wearing heels. walking in heels is difficult enough for me but now that i can't totally feel the balls of my feet, it was just... stupid.

somehow i managed to show up an hour early, but rather than walk home and come all the way back, seemingly impossible, i sat on the front steps, taking in the first sun we've had in a long time. i don't always have a good sense of how i look to others, but it must not have been good because several people walking by asked if i was ok. actually, i was sad about my dog. it was a perfect dog-walking day, and a little poodle trotting along the sidewalk was a big reminder.

of course, i was waiting for the service for an actual person. so they probably assumed i was grieving for him. but, i didn't know him--i was there for his wife whose grief i hadn't really seen--so his death was theoretical to me, and available for any death to be projected onto it. even that of a poodle. or my own. 

i clearly am an extremely self-centered person.

a marketing plan

so i washed and conditioned my little hairs with "root awakening" and by god, when i got out of the shower, all the little hairs had sprung up and were standing at attention. i looked like a chia pet on its first day.

i would tell them how happy i am with their product, except i know the last thing they want are testimonials from breast cancer patients. it would be like "skin so soft--works great on lepers!" not a good marketing plan.

no, reality would not be good marketing. putting a pink ribbon on the bottle and donating a tiny fraction of their sales might work--but only because it is theoretical. it conjures up beautifully edited visions of saving women's lives, which, of course, is a wonderful thing. but they don't want to know--and certainly don't want to be associated with--the gritty reality of how those lives are saved--or sometimes still lost.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

irrational optimism

i found it. the perfect hair product line for my little hairs. it's called "Root Awakening." i actually bought it, both the shampoo and conditioner. i was aware that it looked a little silly for me to be buying any hair products, but i resisted the urge to explain it all to the check-out clerk. (i am working on those boundary issues.)

i can't wait to try it. i just know i'll wake up with hair.


most of the women at radiation lost their hair earlier during chemo. some of us wear scarves or hats, some wear wigs. i have noticed that the ladies who wear wigs fold their clothes to put them in their lockers. the ladies who don't, don't. the ladies who wear wigs look very put together when they leave. those of us who don't, well, not so much.

all of the wigs i have seen look great--very fashionable, they look like a perfect haircut. (which is one reason i didn't get one--it would be so unnatural on me. i don't think they make wigs that look like you got out of bed and forgot to brush your hair, and haven't colored your hair in months so that there's a sort of multi-colored thing going on...)

i have asked the ladies who wear wigs why they decided to wear a wig. (we're practically sisters. plus, i have developed serious boundary issues.) in my admittedly very small sample, the women who wear wigs have told me that they didn't want everyone at work to know that they have breast cancer. which takes me back to wendy wasserman. and wondering again about the cost of hiding it... but, the ladies do look nice.

thank you

it means a lot to me that coal (aka Cancer Dog) touched people beyond his little circle. (as a poodle, i am sure he assumed that would be so, but i would have thought he was delusional, napolean complex and all.) thank you, thank you for the kind words--or thoughts--of support.

i still can't curl up on the couch because he's not there to jump into my lap, but as some people have suggested, maybe he knew i could make it from here, and maybe it's time to get off the couch...

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

a very good dog

ok, so he wasn't really the best little dog in the world. but i loved him. and he loved me, and he loved his whole family. i will always be grateful to him for taking care of me during chemo. he died in my lap, where he belonged. i miss him. he was a very good dog.

Monday, March 1, 2010

the best little dog in the world

In Memorium

The best little dog in the world.